Naturally, TCU coach Raegan Pebley said she wasn’t going to take any moral victories from the Horned Frogs’ 82-78 loss to No. 12 Texas A&M on Saturday.
Her team led for just over 32 minutes of the 40-minute contest. While All-America candidate and leading scorer Zahna Medley was held to just six points, sophomores AJ Alix and Toree Thompson stepped up with 24- and 16-point performances, respectively.
The tandem combined to shoot 10-for-11 from 3-point range and were perfect until an Alix miss with 44 seconds left in the game.
No. No moral victories.
“Obviously, we wanted to see this turn out another way and get a win, but when it came down to it at the very end, we didn’t execute well enough and close games like this go to the teams that rebound better and execute better,” Pebley said.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a four-point loss to the No. 12 team in the nation on the road won’t be a quality loss in the long run for a team that had the door to last season’s NCAA Tournament slammed shut with their toes on the threshold.
“I think this is a game that, ideally, even though we lost, helps A&M when they are looking at seeding in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year,” Pebley said. “Even though we lost, it’s helping us as well. A&M is a good team and is going to do well as the season goes on.”
After TCU (3-1) took a 17-16 lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the first quarter on one of four 3-pointers from Thompson, the Frogs would maintain control of the game until the final three minutes.
It would come down to the final three possessions.
After TCU junior Jada Butts missed a layup with A&M holding a 78-76 lead, the Aggies then were able to isolate senior guard Jordan Jones, from DeSoto, on offense, leading to a layup with just over a minute left.
Alix pulled the Frogs back within two on a layup off a pass while cutting through the paint, leaving 35 seconds on the clock.
TCU elected not to foul and try to force a turnover with aggressive defense. But A&M senior Courtney Walker hit a jumper that would seal the victory for the Aggies (4-0).
“We made a defensive mistake and allowed too much time to be able to come off,” Pebley said. “We actually probably made two or three mistakes in that series right there, including not calling a timeout after the score.”
Walker finished with a team-high 23 points, bested in the game only by Alix, who surpassed her previous career high of 11 points.
“That Alix kid was going against the defensive player of the year and she knocked down 24 on her,” A&M coach Gary Blair said.
“You’ve just got to tip your hat to the kid.”
When conference play draws to a close, committee eyes will be drawn back to Saturday should TCU again be in the running for an NCAA berth.
It was a game that showed the country what Pebley said she already knew.
“I think, considering we only shot 10 free throws to their 20, I think it says quite a lot,” she said. “We definitely, I think, had an aggressive offensive mentality as well. I didn’t need this game for me to see that our team is improved from last year. We didn’t need this game to really be able to tell that we believe in ourselves.”
And Blair, who has won a national championship for a program that is perennially a tournament contender, agreed.
“TCU is sort of the new kid on the block,” he said.” Sort of like we were at A&M. Now I think TCU is going to fit into that top four over in that league over there and start battling Iowa State and Oklahoma State and some of the ones that are used to being up there.”